Yesterday on Thanksgiving Day, most of North America found reason to feel grateful for one day—even if just for the food on their plates. However, everyone the whole world over can have an attitude of gratitude on this holiday...as well as every day…if they try. So much of having an attitude of gratitude involves simply training ourselves to feel gratitude and to see the good in our lives on a regular basis-rather than the opposite. Many of us have trained ourselves to complain about what we don't have or don't get—the bounty we don't receive—and to then feel anything but gratitude. (We feel resentment and anger instead).
I was taught that a prayer of gratitude constitutes the most powerful prayer of all—more powerful than any petitionary prayer or any other type of prayer you might recite. In light of this, I’ve always found it interesting that in Judaism we are taught to say 100 blessings a day.
All of these blessings really are times when we "bless" God by saying thank you...thanks for returning my soul to my body and for making sure everything in my body works today. Thanks for making me a woman or a man. Thanks for giving me hands to use in service to God. Thanks for the fruit of the earth or of the vine. Thanks for bringing me to this season. For or anything you can think of, there is a blessing in Judaism. And the blessing always is offered in the same manner: Blessed are you, God, for (whatever it is you want to bless—a sunset, a new coat, arriving safely). We bless God—as if God needs blessings. The blessing provides a way of constantly having an attitude of gratitude, of remembering the source of goodness by offering gratitude...of giving back...of sharing.
We all can take this idea of gratitude farther and offer gratitude to others. We can thank others for what they do for us...and then we can bless them. We all have the ability to bless each other. We can say, "I'm so grateful that you will soon be blessed with a new job, just like the one I know will be coming my way. I can feel it coming to you soon. I can see it!" Or, "I bless you with abundance and prosperity and the fulfillment that comes with a new job that allows you to be of service and use your talents well."
If you have any doubt about why you should develop an attitude of gratitude, here's a story to help you understand how the energy of gratitude really works—or how prayers of gratitude work. I love this story, which is based upon a teaching by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
Two farmers meet on the road and begin talking. The first one says to the second one, "So, how's life?"
The second one replies, "Not so great. My wife is sick. My crops haven't been growing so well. My cattle are a bit off their feed and don't look at fat as usual. In general, things aren't going so well for me this year. I'd have to say life is pretty bad."
As it happens, God is eavesdropping on this conversation, and, after listening to the second farmer, he says, "You think things aren't going well now...You think life is bad now? Just wait. I'll show you what a bad life really looks like."
Then, the second farmer turns to the first farmer and asks him the same question: "How's life?"
The first farmer replies, "You know, I can't complain. My wife is great. My crops look super this year, and my cattle are fat as ever. In general, things are running smoothly and going really well. Life is good."
God, who is still listening, smiles and says, "You think life is good now, just wait. I'll show you what a good life really looks like."
This story speaks directly to the benefits of developing an attitude of gratitude. When we say we are grateful and see the good in our lives, we open ourselves to receiving more good.
Some people find it difficult to see the good in their lives, especially given the hard economic times of the past year or so. But everyone can find at least something for which to feel grateful each day, each hour. We all have to simply practice developing an attitude of gratitude. We can do this when our eyes first awaken each morning. In the Jewish tradition, the first prayer we offer every day is one of gratitude for our soul being returned to our body after sleep and for all the parts of our body working. Everyone can at least thank God for the fact that their openings are open and their closed places are closed...as the Jewish prayer is translated...and that their soul has been returned to their body for another day of life...that they haven't died in the night.
I like saying the blessing for washing hands. It says, "Blessed are you, God, who commands us to wash our hands and raise them in service." Each time we wash our hands we raise them before drying them and remember to be grateful that we can use our hands in service to God and others. I try to be of service each time I put my fingers on the keyboard and write, since my purpose in writing revolves around helping others.
With 100 blessings—or even just a few each day, it’s easy to see little things for which to be thankful—a smile, a door held open for you, a penny found on the road, a surprise phone call from a friend, the possibility of a new job, a warm place to sleep, a cat curled up in your lap, a warm cup of coffee, a blessing given…a blessing received.